Ahhhhhh….late July in Arkansas…steamy. But that didn’t stop the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series from rolling into North Little Rock this weekend. The Riverside Classic Cross Country Mountain Bike Race, sponsored by Riverside Subaru, took place at Burns Park on Saturday morning but preparations for the race really began a few weeks earlier.
The mountain bike trails at Burns Park are pretty well known for its rocks. Lots of rocks. Rocks sticking out of the ground, rocks that pop-up and lay on the middle of the trail, sharp rocks, skinny rocks, round rocks, rolling rocks. So a couple of weeks ago a group of volunteers lead by Tom Burks of Team CARVE did maintenance on the rougher sections creating some nice lines through some of the rock gardens and clearing many of the larger rocks in flowy sections of the trail.
Then there were the trees. The recent drought has caused a few trees to give it up this year and when I rode the course the week before I counted at least 8 trees that needed to be removed from trails to have a race where even the most skilled riders weren’t forced off the bike. Fear not though, David Yarbrough and friends got out there with the chainsaw during the week before the race and got it all cleared up.
Now if someone could just do something about the heat. I asked race director, Fred Philips of DLT Multisport if he would take care of the thermostat but he decided he had to leave some obstacles in the race. This would be a challenging one.
A festive atmosphere greeted us at the race start area on Saturday morning. Music playing through the loud speakers, Mat from Spokes Bike Shop was setting up the grill for the after race party. A lot of people were milling about, chatting and getting warmed up.
Race organizers started the Cat 1 and 2 racers first. They would be doing multiple laps of a 7 mile course. Once they were done the Cat 3 racers, myself included, would be doing two laps of a 5 mile course. I was not excited about my race starting after 10 am but I guess it was our turn to brave the warmer temperatures of a late start.
(The cross country series has 3 Categories or “Cats”. Racers are split up based on ability and skill levels. Each Cat is broken up by age groups.)
All races started with a road ride from the BMX track west up the “big hill” on Arlene Layman Road and then left into the woods at the top for the rest of the race. Cat 1 & 2 racers followed the Green Loop clockwise until they came to the trail intersections near the Boy Scout Trail parking lot where they turned right and followed the Red Trail counterclockwise where they came back around to the intersection again and then continued on the Green Trail. The Cat 2 racers did this course twice for 14 miles, while the Cat 1′s did 3 times around for 21 miles. The Cat 3 racers did the same course excluding the Red Trail giving them two 5-mile laps. Once off the short road section, the entire race is singletrack.
Due to the rocky conditions over much of the course, many folks had tire problems but those picking good lines, the right tire/tube/pressure combination and a little luck made it through okay. Some riders (yes, me too) had a crash at some point but everyone seemed to be all smiles at the end of the race.
The heat did cause a few issues. On the far east side of the course racers make a climb in an area that begins receiving full sun just after sunrise. It felt like an oven by the last few laps but once past that you were heading into the finish area where you were either done or getting a boost from the cheers as you went on to the next lap. Everyone seemed to have a really good time despite the heat and enjoyed the food and friendship after the race.
We have over a month before the next AMBCS race, September 8th at Slaughter Pen so keep training.
In October, the Arkansas Super Prestige Cyclocross Series will begin. Watch ArkansasOutside.com for a series on what cyclocross is all about.